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December 2014

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Peter Brohier is a regular in the #politas debate about Bass Strait transport.

Mr Brohier is part of a group called the ‘National Sea Highway Coalition'.  It is unclear whether there are any other members of the group, who they are, or more importantly, how you become a member.  I suspect you can't.

Mr Brohier's other recent exploits have included:

  • Proposing a $9 billion bridge across the heads of Port Phillip Bay in Victoria
  • Operating Maptag, a business that sells - amongst other things - Map of Tasmania underwear at the Victoria Markets
  • Writing a list of thought-bubbles on a website and calling it a lobby (and BTW is that the worst website ever built or what?)
  • Running for as an Independent at Victorian elections.
  • Establishing and promoting 'God Actualisation'.
  • He has been labelled a 'lawyer' by the Mercury today, but I can find no evidence that he has practised law in the past decade (at least).

The reason I have put this piece together is because today he managed to get broad coverage for his position on Bass Strait transport in The Mercury, The Examiner and the ABC (and probably others).

I do not believe Mr Brohier is relevant to the Bass Strait transport debate because:

  • He lives and operates a business in Melbourne.
  • There is no evidence National Sea Highway Coalition actually exists as any form of official, legal entity.  Nor is there any evidence of an AGM, organisational structure or membership application process.
  • Mr Bohier has no qualifications or expertise in transport economics, transport logistics and does not represent Tasmanian exporters.

Brohier is the most persistent lobbyist I've ever come across.  It's how he gets meetings with politicians and - I assume - gets coverage in the local media.

When I was an advisor to the former Federal Government he would call almost daily.  After spending hours on the phone with him I eventually stopped answering.  He was completely unable to put together a viable policy to support his argument, which at the end of the day was the single thing I needed to assess whether his (lack of) ideas were worth taking further.

I know he did the same with nearly every other Federal MP and Senator's office.  Former TCCI Chief Economist, Phil Bayley tweeted back in June about a very similar experience:

 He (Brohier) wears people down through persistence, until they say OK, whatever you want, just leave me alone

— Phil Bayley (@PhilbyB) June 25, 2014

I have no doubt journalists over the past few years have endured the same thing.

But that doesn't mean they should report him.

And it isn't just journalists.  Independents Andrew Wilkie MP and Senator Jacqui Lambie appear to have joined with Mr Brohier to put forward a proposal that essentially asks the Federal Government to just throw even more money at the 'problem'.  Mr Wilkie has a history of support for Mr Brohier's 'reform' here.

Mr Brohier has no skin in the game and his proposal would see the Federal Government sink $270 million every year into Bass Strait freight equalisation.

I want to briefly touch on the policy point of view here.  Mr Wilkie and Senator Lambie have not considered the opportunity cost of putting such an extravagant amount of Federal Funding into Bass Strait transport. 

  • What could $270 million (every year) do for Tasmania's own roads and highways? 
  • What could it do for rail?  For our port infrastructure?
  • How much could we save exporters in the cost of moving their freight within Tasmania? 

Even the amount of jobs involved in building $270 million worth of infrastructure is worth considering before you take into account the productivity gains associated with the improved infrastructure.

I still don't know why Mr Brohier is so obsessed with being involved in the Bass Strait transport debate.  To my knowledge, he hasn't been paid by anyone for his work (although if he has he should disclose it), and his business does not operate in Tasmania. 

In a genuine, high-quality debate about Tasmanian economic policy, we should be talking to:

  • Experts in the field
  • Representatives of those directly impacted
  • Those directly impacted

Mr Brohier is none of those.

My biggest issue isn't just that he's not actually representing anyone, or that he isn't an expert on the subject matter.  It's that he takes up valuable time in the public debate with his inarticulate rantings about how Bass Strait should be 'treated as a highway'.  Today's piece in The Mercury was particularly gruelling and inarticulate. 

I'd rather hear from exporters who deal with Bass Strait transport issues every day.

Tasmanian industry's thoughts on his involvement with the Tasmanian debate were well articulated by the head of the Tasmanian Tourism Industry Council (another reputable, incorporated body with actual members) CEO, Luke Martin.

he's (Brohier) a liability to the argument.

— Luke Martin (@lukemartin83) June 25, 2014

Brohier isn't the first talking head lacking credibility in Tasmania (some would say the same about me I suppose). But he must surely one of the most prolific and long-lasting.

So can we please hit the Brohier mute button? 

Whatever the answer to the Bass Strait transport issue is, it's not going to come out of Peter Brohier's mouth.  It's going to come from industry, economists or policy experts.  So let's hear a little more about what they've got to say.

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